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The F-35 vs the A-10: Does it Really Matter Which is Better?

The A-10 is one of the most applicably designed aircraft ever.

The A-10 is one of the most applicably designed aircraft ever.

I just read an interesting article that compared the value of the A-10 against the complete waste of money that is the F-35.  The general essence of the article was that the A-10 is the greatest plane ever designed and that the F-35 is the biggest waste of money in US military history.  The writer makes enough good points that it is hard to disagree with that summary however extreme it may be.

I will admit that I jumped on the F-35 band wagon when it was first announced years ago.  It was a beautiful looking plane that was advertised to have amazing capabilities.  The technology involved was fascinating, and it sounded like it would be the most versatile and effective aircraft in the inventory.

Unfortunately, the reality has been almost completely the opposite.

The F-35 could be incredibly effective if it ever lives up to the hype.

The F-35 could be incredibly effective if it ever lives up to the hype.

The F-35 program has been one delay after another with unlimited amounts of controversy at every turn.  On the other hand the A-10 has been a dream of a plane that for some unexplainable reason the Air Force has tried to get rid of on numerous occasions.

There are pictures and videos all over the internet of A-10s that are seriously damaged that finished their mission and returned the pilot home safely.  On the other hand, the internet is flooded with stories about the problems the F-35 has had before ever flying an operational mission.  The most recent issue being that the F-35 can’t operate with fuel that is too warm.  This could be a bit of an issue considering the fact that most of the conflicts currently taking place are happening in areas that can be extremely hot.

The problem that I see with this debate is the general point that the aforementioned article makes.  Who is considering the real benefits of the aircraft we are buying?

I do feel that there is value in stealth aircraft, not because it makes planes invisible, but because it does make it more difficult for enemies to detect our aircraft.  But does the F-35 provide that much of a stealth advantage over the F-15 Silent Eagle proposal to justify that dramatically higher price tag?

The one thing I have never understood is why we are dropping so much money on completely new aircraft designs when we have amazing airframes that could continue to operate with new technologies applied to make them even better?  I look at aircraft like the A-10, F-15E, and F-16 and wonder why we aren’t just continuing to upgrade these incredibly effective platforms.

I guess it comes back to the problem mentioned in the first article, the Air Force is generally run by fighter jocks that like shiny new toys and not necessarily the ones that will do the job the best.

The C-130 is one of the most effectively employed airframes in the Air Force as evidenced by its longevity.

The C-130 is one of the most effectively employed airframes in the Air Force as evidenced by its longevity.

The interesting aspect of that theory though is that the problem is not quite as evident when you look at the mobility side of the Air Force.  The best example of course being my beloved C-130 Hercules.  It has been in service with the Air Force for 60 years now and simply continues to receive upgrades.  While I feel there are some deficiencies in the newest variant, the C-130J, it is still an incredibly versatile and effective airframe.  Fortunately, the Air Force has not tried to force in a new airframe, but has realized the real value of this aircraft.

When you look at the mobility fleet of the Air Force it is currently made up of three planes the C-17 (~25 years of service), the C-5 (~45 years of service), and the C-130 (~60 years of service).  I’m not really sure how the longevity of these planes is so completely overlooked when it comes to assembling the strike fleet on the other side of the Air Force.

I realize there are significant differences between mobility and strike aircraft, but I also don’t think the differences are so dramatically different that strike aircraft need to be completely replaced that much more often.  Maybe I’m wrong?

In the end, it really feels like the original article is preaching some pretty serious truth about the Air Force.  There really does seem to be a systemic problem when it comes to acquiring new aircraft.  There seems to be a disconnect between the war-fighter and those tasked with supplying them.

But rather than just complaining about the situation I have to wonder how that problem can be fixed.  The simple answer to me as a brand new Captain is to get more real feedback from the operators that are actually flying these planes everyday.  That means getting feedback from Lieutenants, Captains, and Majors that are actively operating these airframes. Most importantly, that feedback must actually be implemented in the development and purchasing processes.

We shouldn’t be going to Colonels who are busy with a lot of things other than flying when it comes to understanding what our planes currently do, and how they can be improved to support the current environment.  Obviously, we shouldn’t let Lieutenants and Captains make the actual purchases but if we aren’t allowing for input from the people who are actually using the product then we are completely missing the point.

Way too many of these decisions are being made by people who have biased agendas rather than by the people who are putting their lives in the cockpits of these planes.  We need to reassess the process and make sure that we are making the right decisions to defend our country, and not the decisions that will line anyone’s pockets.

I realize this is much easier said than done, but the discussion has to start somewhere.  I think there are enough people in the process that genuinely care about the situation to make a change if they will simply DO something about it.  At the very least maybe they will do something to get others thinking that may ultimately lead to effective changes throughout the entire process.

For now we can only hope that the incredible operators that are tasked with employing these airframes will continue to be the best trained and most capable operators in the world to make sure that we continue to be the world’s finest Air Force.


December 20, 2014 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

House Appropriations Subcommittee Approves $140 Million for Contract Towers

The contract towers look like they will be getting funding for at least another year.  The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation approved $140 million intended to help fund these vital towers through the next fiscal year once the current stopgap measure expires later this year.

I don’t claim to know much about the way government works, though to be totally honest I’m not sure the people in government really know how it works either, but I really don’t understand why this whole tower issue has become such a problem.  I agree that there are some of these towers that need to be closed because they just don’t have the traffic to support a tower, but many of these towers provide critical support to larger airports.

It is clear that many of these politicians have no idea how the National Air Traffic System works.  It is not just the tower at one airport that affects its traffic.  Every tower in the area affects every other tower’s operation.  You start eliminating some of these towers, and they will see how adversely impacted the entire system will be.

The measure still has to get through the full House and the Senate, so lets hope that somehow they will get past the politics and make this funding a reality.

June 19, 2013 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Are Passenger Facility Charges the Answer to Airport Funding Problems?

I’m not sure if there is another industry that has started to nickel and dime its users more than aviation.  Some of these charges have already been implemented, and others have simply been proposed.  Airlines are now charging for food, checked baggage, and even for carry-ons in some cases.  Recently most of the major airlines also increased their flight change fees to $200, which was the same amount I paid for my last round-trip ticket in the first place.

Despite all of these new fees, and the simultaneous reduction in service, the airlines are still doing quite well.  Like many other industries, airlines will likely continue to increase fees and charges as much as the market will bear.  With the debatable success of all of these fees it is reasonable to question if airports couldn’t benefit from increasing these fees themselves.

In the past airports have relied heavily on the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) in order to fund major improvements like new runways, taxiways, or terminals.  However, as the cost of these improvements has increased there has not been a coinciding increase in funds.  Airports are having to get creative with ways to fund the projects they need because this previous source just isn’t cutting it.

One of these income sources are Passenger Facility Charges (PFC).  PFCs are currently capped by Congress at $4.50 but there is an increasing number of supporters trying to get that cap lifted.  The airports themselves are one of the biggest supporters of lifting the cap, but groups like AAAE are also lobbying hard to make this a reality.

I don’t know if PFCs are necessarily the answer, but it is time to give airports more ability to support themselves.  Congress has shown their complete ineptitude when it comes to pretty much anything, but especially when it comes to budgets and funding anything.  They need to get out of the way of the people who know how to fix problems and take care of their needs.

Whether it is PFCs or some other source, it is clear that airports need more funding to support their needs, let alone their wants.  What do you think, should Congress lift the cap on PFCs, or is there another way for airports to raise the money they need?

May 19, 2013 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Are Airshows Worth the Cost for the Military?

So the sequester is here, and it is already starting to have an impact on the world of aviation.  In fact, some of that impact took place before the sequestration actually hit.  Last week, the Indianapolis Air Show cancelled their show “due to the wide-ranging impact of sequestration.”

Shortly thereafter, the Air Force cancelled not just air shows, but all aviation support at public events.  That includes “tradeshows, flyovers (including funerals and military graduations), orientation flights, heritage flights, F-22 demonstration flights and open houses, unless the event includes only local static assets.”  So unless it is already based at the air show, don’t plan on seeing any Air Force assets at those wonderful airshows we all love.

I love airshows as much or more than the next guy.  I love just being at the airport watching planes land and take-off, so watching aerial demonstrations is that much better.  That being said, I think the Air Force is making a very wise choice, and one that I expect the Navy will follow, though as of right now the Blue Angels’ official website doesn’t mention any cancellations.

When you consider how much these demonstration teams cost, it just makes sense to cancel their shows with the current financial mess that Congress has put us in.  According to the Department of the Navy Budget Estimates for 2013 from the Finance Department the Blue Angels’ budget was approximately $40 million.

Now as a percentage of the Navy’s total budget $40 million is less than 0.1%, which is clearly not very much.  That being said how can you justify sending these crews all over the country putting them up in four and five-star hotels, while at the same time telling other sailors and airmen that they can’t get the training they need to protect our country because it just isn’t in the budget.

As someone who is being directly impacted by the sequester, I am happy to see that the Air Force is capable of making some common sense decisions.  Put me in the group of people who hopes this whole thing is short-lived and we can quickly go back to enjoying the “sights and sounds of freedom” at air shows all over the country, but until we can come up with ways to take care of the airmen, sailors, soldiers, and Marines that are directly supporting the fight, there is no reason for us to be blowing money on extra things.

One could argue that things like air shows and flyovers are important to maintain public support, and aid in recruiting, and I would agree with you.  However, it does no good to garner that support and recruit those people if you have no way of accomplishing the far more important mission that you have been tasked with.

What’s your take?  Do you think we should continue to fund this extra public support while we are having such major budget problems, or is military leadership making a wise choice to cancel these events for the time being?

March 3, 2013 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Boeing Commercial Airplanes Executives to Speak on RBC Capital Markets Investor Conference Call Nov. 26

CHICAGO, Nov. 20, 2012 /PRNewswire/ — Boeing (NYSE: BA) Commercial Airplanes Executives Pat Shanahan and Larry Loftis will participate in an investor event hosted by RBC Capital Markets on Monday, Nov. 26 at 12:00 p.m. E.T.

Shanahan, senior vice president and general manager, Airplane Programs, and Loftis, vice president and general manager, 787 Program, will provide status on production of the 787 Dreamliner.

Individuals in the U.S. who wish to listen to the conference call should dial 1-800 602-4090. International listeners should dial +1-212-231-0008. The reservation number for the call is 21601995. The presentation will be available simultaneously online at during the call.

A replay of the call will be available through Monday, Dec. 3 by dialing 1-800 558-5253 in the U.S. and +1-416-626-4100 from international locations.

November 25, 2012 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Contract Towers: Saving Money and Providing Essential Service

With as much as I write about air traffic control you would think I was a controller or something.  The reality is that atc is just the hot topic in aviation these days.  After relatively little change in half a century, we are at a point where drastic changes are happening that will make the whole system for effective and more efficient.

One of the important sectors of the atc world is the contract tower program.  Through this program, smaller airports are able to hire contract air traffic controllers as opposed to those employed by the FAA.  This allows the tower to function at a lower cost, while still providing the essential service of air traffic control.

This is by no means a new service as it has been functioning for 30 years.  Over the last year, the 246 towers that are part of the contract tower program handled 14.8 million operations at a cost of $133 million.  That equates to handling 28% of all tower operations, while only using 14% of the FAA’s budget for tower operations.

In a time when the vast majority of government programs provide less with more, the contract towers are doing the exact opposite.  Despite their efficiency and effectiveness, the program is looking at changes coming from Congress as they look for places to cut costs everywhere.  Hopefully, Congress will see that this is one area that is already operating at a relatively low-cost for the services they provide.

Most people will never know if the controller handling their aircraft is part of the contract tower program, and that is the beauty of it.  These are FAA certified controllers that are getting the job done just as effectively, but at a lower cost.  It is absolutely essential that they be able to continue to provide these services at smaller airports so that safety can be maintained.


July 21, 2012 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

With the Choice of Dropping TSA will Airports Make the Switch?

I hate TSA.

I know that I am not alone in that sentiment.  I think it is one of the biggest wastes of money in the federal government.  The quality of the product borders on ridiculous.  There are the well documented cases of not being allowed to take a cupcake through because it has too much “gel” in the form of frosting, and the obvious removal of shoes, jackets, and who knows what else in the future.  Of course there is also all of the uproar over full body scanners that can easily be seen as an invasion of privacy.

Beyond the well documented accounts, we all have experiences of forgetting a knife or some other weapon in our bag that gets completely missed.  I even had one friend who had forgotten two knives, but only one was found by the screeners.

An article in the New York Times made me aware of something that many people may not realize: since TSA was created in 2001 airports have been allowed to request permission to replace federal screeners.  To this point only 16 airports have been given permission to make the switch, but others are beginning to consider the option despite TSA saying they will no longer accept applications last year.

In response to that decision by TSA, Representative John L. Mica, Republican of Florida, included a provision in aviation legislation that strengthens the ability of airports to switch to private screeners which passed in February.  Mica represents the district that includes the Orlando Sanford Airport that is anxiously trying to switch to private screeners.

According to the above mentioned article, the committee that supported the provision estimated that  if the 35 biggest airports in the country switched to private screeners, the government would save $1 billion over five years.  I wouldn’t be surprised if those numbers were inflated to prove their point, but everyone agrees that private screeners are cheaper than TSA.

In an economy, and aviation industry, where every dollar counts, how can this not become a more viable option for the nation’s airports?  The answer is TSA being unwilling to give up their monopoly.  If they are forced to compete against private companies that have to operate efficiently, they will have to change the way they operate.  They will no longer be able to waste millions of dollars on useless purchases like changing the color of shirt their employees wear, and that is awesome.

If this provision does nothing more than force TSA to operate more efficiently and effectively, then it is one of the best bills I have heard about in recent memory.  Here’s hoping that airports are actually able to have the screeners they want to have without any unnecessary hoops to jump through from the government, but what are the odds of that happening?

What is your take on the value of TSA over private screeners?

March 26, 2012 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Hilton Head Airport Finds a Solution In Place of User Fees

The debate over user fees has calmed somewhat since the initial release of the 2013 budget that wants to include them.  While user fees will likely become more of an issue as the actual passage of the budget comes up, it is important to look at what other options there may be in place of user fees.

At the Hilton Head Airport in South Carolina they were able to create a solution to prevent user fees but still increase revenue for the county.  The specific numbers of the deal can be found in this article from  What I like about the situation is that the parties involved were able to get together to find a mutually beneficial solution.

That is the problem that I have with user fees in general: supporters seem to think that user fees are a quick fix for a problem that is much more complicated than just money.  They are not willing to put forth the time and effort to come up with real solutions, they just want more money.

This solution may not work at other airports, but if the airports, FBO’s, and cities/counties would all just sit down and work together they could come up with systems that would provide the necessary funds without overburdening anyone.  Of course we must also consider the FAA and federal government, but they should be no different.  Instead of looking for a quick fix for a long-standing problem, do some work and come up with a solution that everyone can be okay with.

Few will argue that there are not financial concerns when it comes to aviation in general, and air traffic control in particular, which should also mean that people can be reasonable when it comes to developing solutions.  Like most government programs it likely needs to be a tightening of belts along with an increase in revenue, but what we definitely don’t need is a short-term fix for a long-term problem.

I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.